Are We Doing it Right on Player Development?

An alignment of player development pathways across the club, school, third level and county  environments is the main recommendation of a GAA task force charged with ‘the proper development of young players.’

The main question addressed was in whether it was right to retain the system of county development squads or whether that was putting too much emphasis on the one per cent as opposed to the 99.

The answer according to the report is that “Talent development science tells us that there is limited connection between underage and senior success in sport. It also informs us that across numerous sports, later entry into academies gives players a greater chance of becoming an elite senior athlete.”

That itself runs counter to the current system where underage success is given a high premium and talent development seeks to expose players to higher standards at an early age.

The GAA is recognised as having different elements to professional sport where the transfer of players can generate a financial reward for junior clubs.  The general sense of the consultation process runs counter to accepted wisdom and is still looking to run along the lines of ‘hothousing’.

The report then will split opinion though on a detailed reading it does serve to cover a significant number of bases.

At its core is an attempt to “develop and promote development environments that are heavily weighted towards positive youth development and contain a developmental vision that could better serve the current and future needs of the clubs, schools and academies within the Association.”

“These key recommendations also point towards greater levels of synergy and support within our player pathway that in turn will provide our players with the right support, at the right time and in the right place.”

“The recommendations in the report have to be seen as essential to re-establishing the values of the organisation, to ensure that Clubs are at the centre of all our development processes, supporting the retention of players in a sustainable way in line with our culture,” said GAA president John Horan.

Chaired by Michael Dempsey, the Committee surveyed over 1000 stakeholders across all 32 Counties as part of the process.

The report contains an overarching vision, mission and commitment as follows:


To foster and develop in youth players a desire to maximise their potential so that they can actively transition to adult Gaelic Games at both club and county level. Such transitions will be underpinned by an enjoyable development experience which in turn will help to promote a lifelong association with the GAA.


To develop players holistically (both as people and as players) by providing opportunity to develop knowledge which will empower players to engage in the many challenges that they will encounter along the player pathway.


Youth players will experience an individualised developmental environment that is populated with effective coaches who are highly qualified and appropriately resourced. These coaches will promote connection between various stakeholders and provide youth players with a coordinated and progressive approach to their development which will be heavily weighted towards clubs.

Words are easier than practice across such a distributed organisation as the GAA and the key will be in recognising the needs of the child first before the importance of winning.  Sometimes the two will be aligned but not always.

Within the recommendations is a framework which sees schools of excellence open to a wider group up to U15 at which point the first development squad would be introduced.

That is the period of ‘Demonstration of potential’. It then moves into ‘Verification of Potential at U16, and with a two-tier approach, and to ‘Practising and Achieving’ in the early years of third level before the ‘Breakthrough’ phase at the senior third level stage.

In some counties, and with the importance afforded to the Féile competition, that breakthrough phase is seen as being among 13-year-olds, as much as a full seven years before when might be optimum.

This is far from being just a GAA issue.  Stephen Finn who is hosting a Football conference around player development this weekend, undertook a survey of the players who had represented the Republic of Ireland at U17 level and found that five years on only five per cent had gone on to do so at senior level.

The rates of attrition are alarming, especially when falling short of the highest level can often be seen as a failure rather than the other way around.

Making a Difference

Sport for Business in 2020 will look to convene a group of those most closely involved in underage talent development to see what lessons can be learned across the wider sporting environment.

We have been approached by a number of parents across hockey and tennis to express concern over the burden of costs to pursue the highest levels falling on them and the natural exclusion from talent development as a result of all those outside a golden circle of parents who can afford it.

Lots of issues to consider, lots of different pathways seen as the best way to the end result of sport for the best and sport for all.

Like every puzzle of our own making, there will be a solution.  Now maybe the right time to see where smart minds working together can look to unlock the best answers.

Download the Full Report Here


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Image credit: eir sport, twitter

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